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Inaugural Volleyball Cup Serves Up Excitement

The three-game series between national teams from Japan and the USA draws huge crowds.

Japan’s Saori Kimura slams the ball past USA defenders Cursty Jackson (28) and Kelly Murphy, during Saturday’s USA Volleyball Cup match in San Juan Capistrano. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor

If attendance and enthusiasm are to be considered as measures of success, the USA Volleyball Cup is headed for a superb run.

Three days of standing-room-only crowds concluded Saturday with the Americans completing a sweep of visiting Team Japan at JSerra High School in San Juan Capistrano.

U.S. libero Tamari Miyashiro had 11 digs  and successfully returned 74 percent of the serves she handled, as the home squad defeated Japan, 25-15, 25-19, 21-25, 23-25, 15-10.

The earlier matches – played July 10 in San Diego and last Friday at Cal State Long Beach –  also went to the USA, winners of the silver medal at last summer’s London Olympics. Japan won the bronze in London.

The three-game series was swept by the American team, which includes libero Tamari Miyashiro. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

Team USA currently holds the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, with Japan third.

Miyashiro said her team was energized by the simple fact that they were playing as the host, and that the reaction of the fans made all the difference.

“This is huge,” the Honolulu native said after Friday’s match at the Pyramid at CSULB. “We’re trying to start a tradition with this series, and after traveling so much, it’s really great to play in front of a home crowd. We don’t get to play at home too often, so it’s nice to come back for some home cooking.”

All three matches provided evidence of why these are two of the three best teams on the planet. The Americans won the opening match, 23-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-23. The second contest saw Japan surge late but ultimately fall, 25-17, 26-24, 18-25, 25-20.

Japan outside hitter Saori Kimura was a major draw for the throngs of Japanese fans who attended all three matches. The 6-foot-1 striker is one of the most recognizable faces in sports in her homeland, a bona fide star who can be found on television and in advertisements across the nation.

At the Pyramid, Kimura’s fame was evident as she was mobbed by fans for autographs after the game.

Kimura said her team was hindered somewhat by the travel schedule and the roster movements her team made to give the coaches a look at some possible combinations for future matches.

Kimura gives an autograph to a young fan after Friday’s match at Cal State Long Beach. The presence of the Japanese star drew legions of supporters, many waving Japanese flags and carrying banners with messages of support for the bronze medal winners from last year’s London Olympic games. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

“We changed our roster a bit, so it was a little different today,” she explained after Friday’s loss in Long Beach. “At first, our team was very quiet and played a conservative game. However, we began to gel and eventually we could create some good rhythm, so that was good for our team.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t pull out a win this time, so I realize we need a little more effort.”

Kimura had 23 points in the final match, giving the Japanese captain 45 for the tournament.

Team USA is now 8-0 for the season under first-year head coach Karch Kiraly.

–Rafu staff writers Jun Nagata and Junko Yoshida contributed to this story.

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